Finding good utility infielders is hard. Players are struggling so much throughout their minor league career that when it comes to time to learn new positions, a lot of them falter. Teams these days like to have their players be as versatile as possible, so they have them play multiple positions in the minor leagues since it can only help them make the major leagues faster. Sometimes though, it doesn’t work.
Scott Kingery was supposed to be the team’s second baseman of the future, yet the team still thought that he would best be served by playing multiple positions. Saying nothing of the contract he was given before setting foot on the diamond as a major league player, he was forced to learn a new position on the fly because the team thought his athletic ability would let him make a seamless transition to wherever he would play. They were looking for that Enrique Hernandez-type player that can carry multiple gloves and play a lot of positions, maybe not “great”, but at least well enough to be considered average.
Nick Maton is starting to fall into that category. The team is looking at him as someone who can move around the infield and play each position with enough dexterity that he won’t be a detriment to the team on the field. Coming up as a shortstop, he’s learned how to play third and second as well, getting good grades from scouts at all three spots.
What could go right in 2021
The best thing that could happen to Maton is to stay the entire season in Lehigh Valley and continue honing those skills in order to give the team a homegrown utility talent that they really haven’t had in quite a while. While Kingery could be considered homegrown, he still hasn’t shown that he’s a shortstop and there are times when he isn’t much of an outfielder as well. Is that his fault or the team’s for not giving him the in-game reps needed to get better?
With Maton, the team does have the luxury of not necessarily needing him right away with Kingery, Didi Gregorius and Jean Segura all available at the big league level to give them options on the dirt. He’ll be given the chance to make up for the lost season he had last year and get more plate appearances and reps without having to worry about if he’ll lose his roster spot.
What could go wrong in 2021
The worst thing that could happen to Maton is to be called up too soon, flounder and be lost to the team.
At first blush, utility players aren’t exactly the biggest deal on a roster. It would be nice to have set positions for set players, but look at what the Dodgers have done. They have created a 40-man roster of players that can move around the field so that production dips on rest days are not as pronounced. The #37, 38, 39 players on the Dodgers’ 40-man would probably be in the top half of many other teams around the league. By creating utility players in their minor league system, the Dodgers have constructed a roster that almost truly doesn’t have a hole in it. These players were also given enough time to slow cook in the minor leagues and gather those skills necessary to be successful when they were called upon.
If Maton is called up too soon before he is accustomed to each of the spots he will likely be asked to play, he could drop whatever gains he makes elsewhere, whether it be with the bat or with the glove. The team just needs to let him marinate a little while longer and get him used to that utility role that looks like it is being carved out for him.